“And so as a retiree now –”
Steve Smith stops himself. He looks dumbfounded for a second, then flashes a little half-smile. It’s been less than a month since the Baltimore Ravens receiver took off his helmet for the last time and announced that his NFL career was coming to a close.
So forgive him if he’s still getting used to the “R” word.
“It’s uncharted territory,” says Smith, who’s finally back in Charlotte with his family full-time, after spending his last three seasons as a pro in Baltimore. “Football’s been a part of my life for 25 years, and I’m 37. I’ve never not played football. And now I have no boss and no clock.”
“The other day, we were putting our schedules together and she (his wife, Angie) was like, ‘Hey, what do you have going on?’ I was like, ‘Nothin’.’ ”
Which, of course, is far from the truth ...
But before I outline some key things the five-time Pro Bowler is going to concentrate on, now that his playing career is over, let’s make it clear what he won’t be dwelling on: his place in history as a player.
He’s stayed mum about the idea of signing a one-day contract and retiring as a Panther. (He spent 13 seasons with Carolina, set several team receiving records that may never be broken, and is the best player in the organization’s history.) He’s not interested in talking about his Hall of Fame chances.
And if you broach the subject of his legacy with him, he’s blunt: “Everybody asks that question, but it doesn’t matter what I want. People are gonna remember based on their memories and what they feel is important.”
Yup, Steve Smith is ready to move forward.
“I have my whole life ahead of me,” he says. “I’ll have more years of not being a football player than I will as a football player. It’s a part of my life, not my whole life.”
That said, here’s where and how he’ll be focusing his energies in the first year of his retirement:
1. Above all, he wants to spend more time with his four children: sons Peyton, 19; Boston, 11; and Steve Jr. (nicknamed “Deuce”), 2; and daughter Baylee, 15.
When I talked to Smith Monday, he said he’d gotten out of bed before the sun to cook breakfast and send his kids off to school.
The day before, he’d been in Tennessee with Baylee for one of her volleyball tournaments; two weeks before that, he was with her at a tournament in Myrtle Beach. She’ll be driving soon (“that’s scary,” he says), and he’ll get to help teach her. She’ll probably be dating soon, too (although “I’m her man,” dad says, laughing).
“In the three years I’ve been in Baltimore,” Smith said, “I’ve only been able to make one volleyball game for my daughter for school. So those are the things that I’ve missed out on that I can’t get back, that now I get to have the opportunity to participate and watch and root a lot more.”
On a similar note, Smith should find plenty of excuses next fall to head down to Spartanburg, S.C. – that’s home to Wofford College, where Peyton now plays Division I soccer after transferring from DePaul University.
Smith has coached Boston’s flag football team in the past, so more of those opportunities will present themselves, and if you have a 2-year-old in your life, you know what kind of workout that can be.
In general, he says of getting to devote more time with family than ever: “I’m excited, nervous and scared. I’m really just kind of trying to relax and not anticipate and overanalyze everything.”
2. He plans to continue to seek out unique ways to serve Charlotte, through his Steve Smith Family Foundation.
Through a partnership with Project 658, a Christian-based organization and ministry that provides services for at-risk Charlotte families, Smith’s foundation in December opened the Smith Family Wellness Center on Central Avenue in east Charlotte.
The clinic offers medical and counseling services and has staff and volunteers trained to handle everyone from international refugees to victims of domestic violence – and the latter is particularly important to Smith because his mother is a domestic violence survivor.
“I’ve always loved giving, loved sharing, and loved service,” Smith says. “Without people serving and helping me and my mom when I was growing up, then I think there’s a high probability I wouldn’t have been able to be where I am today.”
On Feb. 18, Smith’s foundation will host its fourth annual “Strike Out Domestic Violence” bowling event, designed to increase awareness of domestic violence and raise funds for the Wellness Center.
If you’ve ever been to his foundation’s events in Charlotte (the other big one is the Lace Up Son 5K in Matthews, 2017 date TBA), you know: He’ll talk to anyone who’ll talk to him, and he’s easy with a joke – especially if you’re a kid.
Smith wasn’t able to bowl last year because he was still healing from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in a November 2015 game, but this month, he’ll be back in his bowling shoes.
Oh, and a little-known fact: He took bowling as an elective in college... “and I got an A in it.”
3. He’ll start his second career. Pretty soon, apparently.
I don’t know exactly what that will be quite yet, but Smith gave me a cryptic tease Monday:
Q. “Are you going to Houston for the Super Bowl?”
Q. “What are you most excited to do when you’re there?”
A. “I’ve got some cool things happening.”
Q. “Um, can you be more specific?”
A. “I’m starting work. Can’t say for who. I get the contract today.” Smith smiles, but you can tell he’s ready to move on.
Later in the conversation, I try another approach:
Q. “You have any coaching aspirations?”
A. “No. Because coaching requires a lot of time away from my family.”
Q. “How about broadcasting?”
He smiles again.
A. “Broadcasting is very flexible. I make my schedule 30 days in advance. So you can’t beat that.”
In other words, stay tuned. Seems Steve Smith isn’t done with football quite yet...
Strike Out Domestic Violence
The annual bowling event, hosted by the Steve Smith Family Foundation, will benefit domestic violence awareness and the Smith Family Wellness Center. Participants get two games of bowling, plus there’ll be a silent auction featuring memorabilia from Smith’s personal collection.
When: Sessions from 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m.
Where: 10 Park Lanes, 1700 Montford Drive.
Tickets: Individual tickets are sold out for all sessions. Pair ticket packages are available for a morning session for $125; lane reservations (for 6 people) are available for both sessions for $350.